August 23, 2004
Honorable David P. Driscoll
Commissioner of Education
Massachusetts Department of Education
350 Main Street
Malden, Massachusetts 02148-5023
Dear Commissioner Driscoll:
I am writing in response to Massachusetts' request to amend its State accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following our discussions with your staff, those changes that are aligned with NCLB are now included in an amended State accountability plan that Massachusetts submitted to the Department on August 12, 2004. A list of the changes is attached to this letter. I am pleased to approve Massachusetts' amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website.
If, over time, Massachusetts makes changes to the accountability plan that has been approved, Massachusetts must submit information about those changes to the Department for review and approval, as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I. Approval of Massachusetts' accountability plan is not also an approval of Massachusetts' standards and assessment system. As Massachusetts makes changes in its standards and assessments to meet requirements under NCLB, Massachusetts must submit information about those changes to the Department for peer review through the standards and assessment process.
Please also be aware that approval of Massachusetts' accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved above, does not indicate that the plan complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
I hope that you have found the accountability plan amendment process effective for implementing a State accountability system that best serves the needs of Massachusetts' students and schools and that will lead to improving the academic achievement of all students. As evidenced by the diversity among State accountability plans and State consolidated applications, States have great flexibility in the design of their systems and implementation of particular NCLB provisions. If, as you implement your accountability plan, you find additional elements of your plan that you believe should be refined or amended for next school year to best serve the needs of your students and schools, I encourage you to explore all the areas of flexibility available to your State.
In addition to the flexibility available to States in the design and implementation of their accountability plans, I also encourage you and your districts to utilize the additional flexibility available for the administration and operation of NCLB programs. NCLB continued the flexibility available to States and districts under the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA, including the ability to consolidate State and local administrative funds (sections 9201 and 9203), to operate schoolwide programs (section 1114), and to participate in the Education Flexibility Partnership Program ("Ed-Flex"). Additionally, NCLB created several new flexibility options for States and districts for the operation of federal programs. These new flexibility provisions include the State Flexibility Authority (sections 6141 through 6144), the Local Flexibility Demonstration program (sections 6151 through 6156), Transferability (sections 6121 through 6123), and the Rural Education Achievement program (sections 6201 through 6234). These flexibilities truly offer States and districts the ability to target federal resources to their unique and individual needs.
I am confident that Massachusetts will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. I wish you well in your school improvement efforts. If I can be of any additional assistance to Massachusetts in its efforts to implement other aspects of NCLB, please do not hesitate to call.
cc: Governor Mitt Romney
Amendments to the Massachusetts Accountability Plan
These statements are summaries of the amendments. For complete details, please refer to the Massachusetts Accountability plan on the Department's website: www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html
Including all schools (Element 1.1)
Revision: Small schools (e.g., those with fewer than 20 students assessed or with fewer than 20 students in the school for a full academic year) will receive an AYP determination based on data from sending or receiving schools to which enrolled students are linked or composite data reflecting district-wide results. Massachusetts will determine, on a case by case basis, which score attribution method will result in AYP determinations that most accurately and reliably reflects the schools' performance, and will use that method.
Same criteria for all schools/districts (Element 1.2)
Revision: Massachusetts has provided more detail about how alternate assessments are included in the State's index and how attendance rate and graduate rate are included in the AYP definition.
Assessing LEP students (Element 2.1)
Revision: Massachusetts will include the flexibility that the Secretary's letter of February 20, 2004 provides relative to limited English proficient students for assessment purposes. Massachusetts also provided detail about a new English proficiency assessment that the State is developing.
Definition of AYP (Element 3.1)
Revision: Massachusetts has updated its process for providing annual AYP decisions and has provided more details about the AYP definition (e.g., targets are increased every two years).
Annual Measurable Objectives in the AYP definition (Element 3.2b)
Revision: Massachusetts has updated its description of how its index is used in "safe harbor" calculations.
Graduation rate (Element 3.2b and 7.1)
Revision: Massachusetts has changed its interim definition for graduation rate (a competency determination).
Including students with disabilities (Element 5.3)
Revision: Massachusetts is incorporating results from its alternate assessments into an Alternate Index and is using that Index in AYP decisions. The use of these scores in AYP decisions will be aligned with the Department's final regulation that was issued in the Federal Register on December 9, 2003.
Minimum group size accountability (Element 5.5)
Revision: Massachusetts' group size will be as follows: 40 students or 5%, whichever is greater, until that number reaches 200.
Graduation Rate (Element 7.1)
Revision: Massachusetts will not include foreign exchange students in the graduation rate when such students are not officially enrolled in the school.
Participation rate (Element 10.1)
Revision: Massachusetts will adopt the new flexibility regarding students who have medical emergencies during the testing window and its affect on a school's participation rate.
Reliability of AYP definition (Element 9.1)
Revision: Massachusetts has provided more detail about how AYP determinations are reliable.